The Second Disc

Expanded and Remastered Music News

Reissue Theory: Debbie Harry, “Rockbird”

with 5 comments

Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we reflect on notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. What does the most ridiculous celebrity meltdown at the moment have to do with the second solo LP by the leader of Blondie? The answer may shock you.

“Fools and trolls.” “Gnarly gnarlingtons.” “Winning!” The ongoing, eminently quotable, six-cylinder meltdown of Charlie Sheen is a bizarre conversation starter around the world. (Your mileage may vary of course: to this author, the whole thing is slowly decaying from funny to funny-sad – though I still stand by my earlier personal comments that Sheen is, indeed, the Mozart of crazy.)

The source of Sheen’s megalomania (other than, possibly, drugs) is a seething anger at Chuck Lorre, the prolific television producer and creator of the currently-shutterered Two and a Half Men, for which Sheen is the highest-paid actor on television. Lorre gained prominence as a writer and co-producer on Roseanne in the 1990s before creating hit sitcoms like Grace Under Fire, Dharma & Greg and The Big Bang Theory.

But creating high-rated television was not the first phase of Lorre’s professional life. No, Lorre first chased his muse through songwriting – and one of the end products was a run-in with Debbie Harry, on a song that, to quote the writer, “ended her solo career.”

The story of Rockbird is after the jump.

In 1986, Debbie Harry’s singing career was starting to come back out of its shell. Blondie were defunct, having broke up four years earlier after the flop album The Hunter. Harry herself had only done one solo LP (the underrated Koo Koo in 1981, produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of CHIC) and a handful of singles here and there (mostly soundtrack appearances on films like Scarface (1983) and Krush Groove (1985)). The biggest reason for her disappearance, though, was the near-breakdown of her relationship with Blondie guitarist Chris Stein, who was suffering from both drug abuse and pemphigus, a rare skin disorder.

Eventually, Harry and Stein managed to get back on track, and entered the studio with Seth Justman, keyboardist for The J. Geils Band (and writer of “Centerfold“), to work on another album. While most of the songs were penned by Harry with Stein and Justman (one was co-written by Nile Rodgers), one name in particular sticks out: Chuck Lorre.

It turns out that Lorre, having dropped out of the State University of New York at Potsdam, was travelling the road as a singer/songwriter/guitarist. Though Lorre has not had much kind to say about his own talent, calling himself a “second-string guitar player in third-string bands playing fourth-rate clubs,” one of his songs, “French Kissin’ in the U.S.A.,” made its way to Harry and was released as the first single from the album. It was Harry’s first and last Top 10 hit in the U.K., and missed the Top 40 in the U.S. – but remains her highest-charting solo single on the Hot 100. (Follow-up single “In Love with Love” topped the U.S. dance chart.)

While “French Kissin'” remained popular with Blondie fans, appearing on the 1988 Debbie/Blondie compilation Once More Unto the Bleach and many subsequent packages, Lorre remained bemused by the song, self-mockingly claiming it as the song that torpedoed Harry’s career year later, on one of his many famous vanity cards seen at the end of episodes of his production. That same vanity card, however, indicated his eventual disillusionment with songwriting, particularly when he and a co-writing partner were stiffed on royalties for the one of the most popular children’s television theme songs of the past quarter-century.

Interestingly, despite a wealth of remixes (and those elusive soundtrack songs recorded around the same time), Rockbird has never been reissued on CD. So consider this a tribute to both Debbie Harry and Chuck Lorre, the man who drove Charlie Sheen insane.

Debbie Harry, Rockbird (Chrysalis (U.K.)/Geffen (U.S.), 1986)

  1. I Want You
  2. French Kissin’
  3. Buckle Up
  4. In Love with Love
  5. You Got Me in Trouble
  6. Free to Fall
  7. Rockbird
  8. Secret Life
  9. Beyond the Limit
  10. Feel the Spin (Extended Dance Version)
  11. French Kissin’ in the U.S.A. (Dance Mix)
  12. In Love with Love (London Mix)
  13. Liar, Liar (Extended Version)
  14. French Kissin’ in the U.S.A. (French Version)

Tracks 1-9 released as Chrysalis (U.K.) LP CHR-1540/Geffen (U.S.) LP GHS-24123, 1986
Track 10 released as Geffen (U.S.) 12″ A-side 0-20391, 1985/Chrysalis (U.K.) 12″ B-side CHS 12 3128, 1986. Original version from Krush Groove: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Warner Bros. 1-25295, 1985).
Track 11 released as Chrysalis (U.K.) 12″ A-side CHS 12 3066/Geffen (U.S.) 12″ A-side 0-20575, 1986
Track 12 released as Chrysalis (U.K.) 12″ A-side CHS 12 3128/Geffen (U.S.) 12″ A-side 0-20654, 1986
Track 13 from Married to the Mob: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Reprise 1-25763, 1988)
Track 14 released as Chrysalis (U.K.) 12″ B-side CHS 12 3128, 1986

Written by Mike Duquette

March 2, 2011 at 14:52

5 Responses

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  1. Wasn’t there an issue on CD that was part of a Geffen mid-line “bargain price” series that was, at the time, $5.98 or something? I remember they did a big batch of ’em, including Jennifer Holliday, and that they disappeared quickly.


    March 2, 2011 at 15:23

  2. Wait a minute. I have ROCKBIRD on CD. So it can’t be true. Or do I have some kind of weird rare import? I’m confused. I remember her singing “French Kissin'” on Saturday Night Live that year.


    March 3, 2011 at 16:08

  3. I love ROCKBIRD but for some reason I feel Chuck Lorre’s “French Kissin” doesn’t belong in it. It’s like the record company gave her this song, in order to score a hit and I remember her stating back in the day, she hadn’t even met the composer. I wouldn’t agree that it ended Debbie Harry’s carreer, as she’s such a great and talented artist, she has had a very creative period post that release: 25 years full of art, music, films, theatre…
    “Backfired” from KOO KOO is her higher Billboard Hot100 single at #43, followed by “French Kissin” at #57, “In Love With Love” at #70 -both from ROCKBIRD and “The Jam Was Moving” from KOO KOO at #82.
    What’s more, ROCKBIRD has been reissued by Chrysalis Records on digitally remastered CDs and just recently, in 2010 was re-released in a 2-CD package together with DEBRAVATION, by BGO Records.


    March 4, 2011 at 15:12

  4. GREAT IDEA for a reissue, especially for the inclusion of the extended version of “Liar, Liar”. I’ve been searching for that 12″ ever since I first read about it back in ’88. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe it was only released as a German promo (Reprise 921070-0, 1988). Does anybody out there know where I can get my hands on a copy (or even a quality MP3)? Every month or so I search Google for “debbie harry liar liar extended”, and that’s what brought me to your site today.BTW, more kudos for including the London Mix of “In Love With Love” by Pete Hammond, which is far superior to the dreadful Justin Strauss/Heart Of Fire mix.

    Tom in Portsmouth, NH (USA)

    April 17, 2011 at 10:56

  5. debbie is the best thing that ever happened to the music world. i remember the release of Rockbird, like it was yesterday.the material was creative, and fun. The biggest problem, with that album, was 2 things. Seth Justman. And the fact that hardly any promotion of the long awaited album was put out. Poor management, and poor handeling, of what could have been Debbies, second chance to wow a whole new generation,and put her back on top.Instead it was basicaly ignored by the music industry. Only her true fans were able to bask in the glory.Someone dropped the ball.


    March 7, 2014 at 00:07

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